Rarely In Surfing Are Days Truly “Historic”, However, Today Was
At the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells, Mick Fanning placed 2nd in his last-ever event, Steph won her fourth Bell, and Italo took his inaugural CT win.
Finals day at the 2018 Rip Curl Pro was met with clean, well-overhead walls and a dropping tide, which is to say: perfect Bells Bowl. With Mick Fanning’s retirement looming and two Bells up for grabs, the scene was set for a momentous day in surfing history.
Here’s what happened:
Patty G’s got a magic board, but not in the generic sense
On the first wave of the morning, Pat Gudauskas wrapped his fingers firmly around the rail of his highlighter craft, nailing the only major maneuver of his quarterfinal against Michel Bourez. Through a careful analysis of this wave, I’ve determined that Pat’s is indeed a magic board, but not in the typical sense. Rather than having innate control of his craft, Pat is merely a parasite on this self-driving board, which is called the Fever because of how blatantly it’s been trying to get rid of him.
Essentially this board goes where it wants, when it wants, and it’s Pat’s sole objective to stay attached long enough to secure a juicy score. Through some truly acrobatic efforts, Pat was able to maintain this balancing act into the semis, but this symbiotic relationship doesn’t seem sustainable for any extended period of time.
Fanning was not on fire early
Luckily for Mick, in a quarterfinal where he surfed exceptionally average, Owen’s neck was stiffer than 7th grade tubesock after spending his night in the boot of an automobile, leaving him incapable of scraping into the ‘Good’ range. While Mick wasn’t yet on fire, his surfing did show a few flickering embers, which if tended correctly, were liable to light the whole cliff on fire.
“Italo is in career best form”
Ronnie Blakey said it, and it’s true. The Brazilian has been the highest scoring surfer of the event, and no one, not even the formidable Zeke Lau, was going to throw him off his game.
Referencing the John Moment, Ronnie raised the hypothetical situation in which Zeke tried the same tactics against Italo:
“It’d be harder to do that same thing against Italo,” said Ronnie. “He’s one of the more… robust surfers on the tour.”
What Ronnie meant, essentially, was that Italo takes shit from no one. Despite being half Zeke’s size, the Brazilian would have no qualms about dishing it back to the Hawaiian. He’s a little pitbull he is!
And Italo’s surfing… is… incredible. Fast, powerful, and abnormally explosive–the exact opposite of boring and just what the judges are looking for in 2018. That’s why he’s one of the very few surfers to nail excellent scores at this event, and he did it seven times.
In his best wave of the quarter, Italo finished with an upside-down hack on a double-overhead section, somehow managed to keep the nose up and celebrated with a self-congratulatory clap, which, while arrogant, was totally deserved.
According to Rosy, Italo gave himself a “whoop whoop” while hopping off the ski, which was followed by him salsa dancing in the lineup. So yeah, it’s safe to say Zeke did not get in Italo’s head.
Gabby likes it!
In his post-heat presser, after dismantling the handsome Frederico Morais, Gabby admitted that he was finally starting to like the Bells Bowl. “Now I can do turns on the wave, before I couldn’t,” gabbed Medina. “I just watched a lot of Occy videos and figured it out. It’s fun!”
Caroline Marks made three rookie errors in her high-scoring semifinal against Stephanie Gilmore, which ultimately cost her the win. First, after scoring an 8.87 on her opening ride and regaining priority, she caught an insider that culminated into nothing.
Next, while paddling back into the lineup after a wave, she had an opportunity to chip into a rogue bomb. With Steph cuaght on the inside, it was Caroline’s wave to take, but she misread the section and missed it entirely.
Last, needing an eight on her final wave, Caroline overcorrected for her previous error and got stuck in the whitewater while taking off, resulting in a blown take-off. No matter how skilled a surfer may be, when going against The Champ, she has to be seamless in not just her surfing, but also her heat management. Caroline will gain a lot from this experience, and at just 16 years old, she’s cemented herself as a legitimate threat on the Women’s CT.
“A champion always knows when to lift his game” – Peter Mel
Going against Pat’s magic craft, Mick knew that he’d have to lift his game to win the semifinal. Through a combination of cuts, floats, and hacks, Mick did just that, securing his highest heat total of the event and a finals berth. The beach roared, and all signs pointed to a fairytale ending, until…
Italo came to win
Italo’s only moment of hesitation in this event–and what a stressful moment it was–came when he allowed Gabriel Medina catch the best wave of their semifinal. I’m not sure what Italo saw, or perhaps didn’t see, in Gabby’s 7.67, but I was shocked that he’d give such a wave to his superstar competitor. This little gem hugged the reef sublimely, allowing Medina to repeatedly tag it down the line, at which point I believed the heat was over.
Then the bomb came.
Prepared to capitalize on his non-priority position once again, Medina caught this wave from way out the back, but Italo was too smart to get caught in that trap. Darting toward the channel, Italo blocked Medina’s progress and delivered several devastating blows for a nine-point ride–one Medina would never come back from.
For the record, Medina has never beaten Italo in a head-to-head match.
The Belle of the Bowl
In a close-scoring final, Steph’s effortless power and grace overcame the constant wailings (and near buzzer-beater) of Tatiana Weston-Webb, securing Steph’s fourth career victory at Bells and the yellow jersey heading into Margaret River.
“Aw really, the yellow jersey? Cool, I love the yellow jersey! Hopefully I can keep it a little longer than last year,” Steph laughed. “I felt like all the focus was on Mick, so I could just swing in and get a little ding ding without anybody noticing.”
Italo broke the script, and Mick was classy as ever
If ever there was a time that somebody could be accused of, and then immediately forgiven for, “throwing a heat”, it would have been Italo’s 2018 Rip Curl Pro final. After consistently securing the best numbers throughout the event, and to my recollection not falling once, Italo looked shaky throughout the final. I don’t know if it was first-potential-win nerves or a subconscious voice telling him to “Fall… for Mick!”, but Italo did not look like the same guy who had blitzed all those earlier rounds.
Plus, Mick was kind of ripping.
In the opening minutes, Lightning threw a Dane-style reverse on the last section of his first wave, proving that he intended to go out with a bang.
His eight–a rich combination of carves and woeful reminder of what we’ll be losing with Mick off the Tour–was especially timeless. I’m a firm believer that throughout all of surfing history, nobody has perfected railwork to the same extent as Michael Eugene Fanning. He is a true swordsmith, and despite a few overscores throughout his career, a truly deserving champion. Nevertheless he found himself trailing with a few minutes to go.
A little wave came through in the dying seconds. Needing a mid-7 for the win, Mick would have had to surf out of his bottle-opener sandals to get the score, but I reckon he could have done it.
In the same way that he could have won another World Title this year if he really wanted to, Mick realized that a fifth Bell wasn’t worth all the effort it would take to get the score, and that he’d rather just enjoy a nice moment out the back with his friend Italo.
So he let it go.
As a 3x World Champion, shark survivor, and generally cherished human, Mick Fanning has retired as the #3 ranked surfer in the world.
“I didnt think I was gonna get emotional,” Mick said in his commencement speech, suppressing tears behind his Dragon lenses. “It was a bummer not to win, but to see how much it meant to Italo, that was one of the coolest moments I’ve been a part of… Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way.”
And thank you Mick, for everything.
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